February 07, 2021
Middelkerke was the site of the final Superprestige cyclocross race of the 2020-2021 season. Both the Elite Men's and Women's overall came down to the final event, Middelkerke. Each winner squeezed out a victory in the overall season-long series by the smallest of margins, despite neither winning the day.
Middelkerke featured a challenging course with deep, thick mud, plus quite a bit of running/pushing and splashing through standing water.
In the Elite women's field at Middelkerke, Denise Betsema rode away from Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (2nd) to win. Newly-crowned world champion Lucinda Brand finished 3rd, following a crash on the first lap which initially set her back.
3rd was good enough to seal Brand's victory in the Superprestige 2020-2021 overall series anyway. For 2020-2021, she has also won the World Cup overall, the one-day World Championships, and holds the lead in the X20 Badkamers Trofee series as well, with that series still in process. So with a few more results at the X20 series to close out the season, she has a shot at winning every major cyclocross series, plus the world championship - quite a special season!
With superstars Tom Pidcock, Wout van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel each having ended their cyclocross season following the World Championship, the door was open for some new riders to show themselves at the front of the Elite men's field. The Elite men's race at Middelkerke featured some strange strategic riding among those riders. Entering the day, Toon Aerts held a lead in the overall series.
It was clear from the start that Aerts, was having a bad day, dropping as low as 9th and putting his series lead in jeopardy on the final stage. Eli Iserbyt still had an outside chance at the overall title if he could win and Aerts finished low.
This created the unusual situation of Lars van der Haar, Aerts teammate, appearing to wait for Aerts during the race - even though van der Haar was clearly on a much better day and headed for a better result. By allowing Aerts to finish ahead, van der Haar selflessly gave up points, allowing them to go to Aerts - ultimately giving Aerts enough points on the day to still claim victory in the 2020-2021 Superprestige overall. van der Haar played the classic teammate role to a "T".
Contrast that with Laurens Sweeck, the days winner, who appeared to be in conflict with his Pauwels Sauzen teammates, and perhaps the team management, for much of the race. He was the strongest, but may have been pressured to allow teammate Iserbyt to win (Iserbyt still having an outside shot at the overall, depending on Aerts' performance on the day) if it was possible. During certain sections Sweeck appeared to be coasting or soft-pedaling. Ultimately, Iserbyt couldn't / wouldn't go with Sweeck and Sweeck would not wait any longer, taking the victory on the day.
The 2020-2021 Superprestige series overall, Elite Men, was won by Toon Aerts.
The 2020-2021 Superprestige series overall, Elite Women, was won by Lucinda Brand.
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